Tuesday, 23 August 2016

July - harvest summary

The amount we gather and harvest from the garden is recorded in a Google spreadsheet which is available for anyone to view. We started off by recording everything that we gathered from the garden but we keep forgetting to note down small amounts of salad leaves that are picked throughout the day e.g. cut and come again lettuces, dandelion leaves, young beetroot leaves. The column for lettuce will be removed from the spreadsheet from 2017 onwards.

Since June we have been estimating how much we would have spent had we bought the fruit and veg in a shop or at the local Farmers' Market. The problem is that many of the varieties we grow are not available in the local shops so we have decided to take an average of  the prices across a range of the varieties that are available as well as organic options. As we are no longer recording lettuces or salad leaves we shall include an amount that we think we would have spent on them over the month. Similarly, we shall include a rough figure for the herbs that we pick. At this time of year it is a lot: chives, oregano, mint, lemon balm, rosemary, basil, lovage, lemon verbena, parsley, coriander.

Weights in the table are in grams

Total harvest 8.215kg
Total harvest worth  £60.40

Runner beans
Swiss chard
Spring onions
White currants
Estimate for herbs
Estimate for salad leaves

Thursday, 18 August 2016

July 2016 - hot!

July was an average sort of month for our area in the UK except that we had several days of very, VERY hot weather. On July 18th the temperature hit 35 degrees C. The cat gave up and tried to find somewhere cool indoors, we didn't even try to work in the garden and any watering that was needed was left to early morning. At least the spell of hot dry weather gave our squashes, peppers and tomatoes a boost, and one of the cucumber plants went berserk.

I was away working for a few days in the middle of the month and came back to a monster cucumber that had suddenly appeared alongside a couple of slightly smaller ones. It was a very nice ridge cucumber but not what I had expected. The plants that I had put in this container were supposed to be striped and globular (can't remember the name of the variety). I have no idea what went wrong with this one as the other plants are now fruiting as described on the packet. I probably mis-labelled the seedling.

The walking onions - also known as perennial onions, Egyptian onions, tree onions, or topsetting onions - are at last walking, They form a cluster of bulbils on top of a stem which makes it top heavy. The stem bends over and when the bulbils touch the ground they take root and produce more plants, so it is like they are walking across the garden. You can add the bulbils to salads or use them in cooking but this year we have reserved them for generating more onions. Nearby is a serpentine garlic, which I had completely forgotten about. Near the top of the serpentine stem bulbils are formed. When ripe, the stem uncurls and the bulbils drop to the ground, again forming new plants. Love these plants. Almost all you have to do, once they are established, is let them get on with it. Of course, you still have to thin them out and pull up the bulbs and stems that you want to eat! Otherwise, it is relax on the garden lounger with a drink and watch them do their own thing.

Egyptian walking onions
Serpentine garlic

This year has turned out to be a superb one for onions, although earlier in the year we did think that the overwintered sets were going to a disaster. A few did flower and set seed or bunch into something more akin to shallots but on the whole we have had a good crop.

The same cannot be said for the garlic. We gathered plenty of bulbs but they are all on the small side. Many of them also had bulbils forming halfway up the stems.

The veg in the containers in zone 1 alongside the kitchen/bathroom extension are doing well and an experiment in growing peas at the back of the gro-beds has been a great success. We have been having peas, peas and yet more peas for lunch! The lettuces have all been eaten and the tomatoes and squashes are now taking over the beds.

The chillis in the pots have finally sprung into action following the hot weather and it is onwards and upwards for the the runner beans. The problem with the beans is that they are so tall they are crawling across the kitchen roof. We shall either have to resort to ladders to harvest the topmost beans or leave them until the end of the season when they can be collected for seed for next year.

Peas, potatoes and cabbages are still the main crops at the moment with a few carrots and beetroot. As mentioned in the June posting the cabbages were very poor last year but have made up for it in 2016. Cauliflowers are the complete opposite. In 2015 we had several 4 pounders but this season we were lucky to have enough for a couple of meals - and the colour was weird. There is white cauliflower, cream cauliflower, green cauliflower and purple cauliflower. But we found a couple of mostly white with purple splodges caulis in our garden. It was in an area where self seeded stuff is allowed to grow so we're wondering if it's a cross between a white cauli and purple sprouting broccoli - or just a mutant! Disappointingly, the colour disappeared on cooking as is often the case with purple coloured veg.

Escaping horseradish
The bag containing the horseradish is in zone 3 and generally we don't pay much attention to it unless we want to pull up a root to make some sauce. This year we started growing strawberries for ground cover around this and other veg bags in that area and it was when we went to pick some berries that the horrible sight you see to the left greeted us. The horseradish has broken through the bottom of the veg bag, not just here but at four other points, and it is spreading. The gardening magazines, forums and blogs do warn that horseradish will eventually stage a break out no matter how well contained. This is war but it looks as though it is going to be a never-ending battle with no chance of either of us winning outright.

Mr or Mrs Toad (or both, or perhaps even the whole family) have been crawling around the garden and there are frogs a-plenty hopping everywhere. This one was spotted under the shade of the gooseberry bush. Great to see so many of them in residence.

Brassica seedlings
Everything is in place for the summer, autumn and early winter harvests but now is the time to start thinking about the mid to late winter and early spring supply of veg. We don't have to worry about the purple sprouting broccoli as we allow it to go to seed and it sorts itself out. Brussel sprouts and some cabbages are already on their way to being established as is the cavolo nero but this/next year's main project re brassicas is to try out different varieties of kale. Red Ursa on the right of the picture, a stable cross between  Frilly Siberian Kale and Red Russian Kale (seeds from the Real Seed Catalogue), leaves looks especially interesting.

With so much food coming out of the garden this month I have to show off at least one meal, which is what we had for Sunday lunch at the start of July - and we did rather pig out. NOT from the garden were rice, split peas for the dhal, chickpea flour, vegetable oil, milk for the home made yogurt, and spices. Home grown ingredients: beetroot (beetroot tikki), potatoes, peas, pea pods, cabbage, swiss chard, onion, garlic, cucumber, lettuce, coriander, parsley, mint. The bhaji (below the beetroot tikki) was made of onions, shredded pea pods and shredded cabbage.

And finally...

The view from the kitchen window, 22nd July 2016. The first crop of peas have nearly finished and now the triffids (squash) are taking over and trying to break in!

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

June - busy, busy, busy

Like 2015, 2016 started off cold and sometimes extremely wet. Everything, including parsnips, was started off indoors but May saw the start of warmer weather and planting out could begin. The good growing conditions continued in June and we had a continuing harvest of overwintered crops. We also had to play catchup over a very short time-span with sowing and planting out so there was very little time to relax and lounge around.

I started to clear and tidy up an area against the kitchen wall where, last autumn, I had dumped a couple of pots and piled up some wood. I abandoned the tidying up and replaced everything when I spotted this grumpy looking inflated toad. It could explain why the chard and brussel sprout seedlings that I had forgotten about and left out overnight had not been gobbled up by slugs and snails as they normally would have been.

I saw a second one at the other end of the garden but it could have been the same one having a wander around in search of alternative hiding places. May he/she and their friends continue their good work in the garden.

At this time of year not all the possible food growing areas are in use so if flowers pop up I leave them be. Like this poppy, they add a welcome splash of colour and encourage pollinators into the garden.

The potatoes bags right at the back of the garden are doing well and we've managed to plant runner beans against the fence itself. We still can't plant much in that strip because of  the sycamore tree roots. The trees that were on the other side of the fence have been removed but the substantial roots remain and are close to the surface. The beans do OK there but very little rain reaches them with the potatoes overshadowing the soil, so I have to remember to water them regularly.

The Babington's leeks have now reached maturity (it is their third year in the garden) and three of them have sprouted flower stalks. Hopefully they will mature and we shall have dozens of bulbils some of which will go back into the garden and the rest shared with other gardeners in the area.

Clouds of these beauties have been darting around the garden this month. Common blue damselfly Enallagma cyathigerum.

This was an experiment in growing potatoes from supermarket potatoes. It is not generally a good idea to try this as you cannot guarantee that they will be disease free and they are usually sprayed with chemicals that inhibit sprouting; but I decided to see how far I could get with some Ruby Gem. As expected, they didn't sprout very well when left on the dresser in the kitchen (my usual chitting area) but there was enough growth to encourage me to plant them out in a potato bag. Growth was rather leggy and it quickly died back. The total yield from 3 potatoes was 274g. Some supermarket salad potatoes fared even worse. They just sat on the dresser for two months and turned green.

The experiment supports the general opinion that it is not really worth trying to get a decent group out of the treated potatoes to be found on supermarket shelves.

The peas that I used to test viability and germination rates for the Reading Food Growing Network are growing apace in the bags alongside the kitchen and bathroom extension. This is what they look like from the kitchen window.

And here is the outside view. The runner beans in the tub are also starting to take off.

We have plenty of  overwintered pointed cabbages and onions this year. Last year the cabbages were a great disappointment but they have more than made up for that in 2016. I have been cutting the heads off but leaving the stems with a few of the lower leaves hoping to encourage them to regrow. We are now starting to see a second crop of looser heads of leaves.

We have a lot of wild alpine strawberries in our garden that were planted to provide ground cover at the rear of the garden while we decided what to with that patch. The area had, for the last few years, been overshadowed by sycamore trees on the other side of the fence and their roots still restrict what we can plant there. The strawberry fruits may be small but they are gorgeous little flavour bombs. Delicious with homemade yogurt and the first of this season's locally produced honey from 600 yards down the road.

The wild strawberries take over a patch of ground very quickly and are difficult to manage so regrettably they will have to go now that the ground is to be used for higher yielding crops.

Replacing the wild strawberries in some places are the larger "domesticated" varieties and the first of those are beginning to ripen.  
Two years ago I planted a small grape vine that I bought from a stall at a RISC Roof Garden open day. We may have grapes this year!

The tea bags for this year's Tea Bag Index Project have arrived. See my posting about last year's participation for details of what is involved. This year the pairs of tea bags are going into the strip of ground next to the back fence, the ground that is next to the composting area, and the narrow strip alongside the garden shed.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

First and last

We are enjoying the first of the mangetout and almost the last of the swiss chard. I thought the chard was finished earlier in the year but having chopped it right back to ground level a couple of plants sprang back into to life. They are now on their last legs and are going to seed so we really shall be finishing it off over the next few days.

We have just a handful of mangetout at the moment but a lot more are forming on the plants.The yellow ones are Golden Sweet from the Real Seed Catalogue and the green are Oregon Sugar Pod. I started both of them off indoors in seed pans. The Oregon was originally grown in window sill pots for early spring pea shoots but after a few cuttings I decided to see how they would fare outside. I did protect both varieties from the cold snaps we had by surrounding them with a sort of cold frame made from old metal window frames, bubble wrap and garden fleece. 

I spotted the Golden Sweet seeds in the Reading Food Growing Network's seed swap box along with the more common Oregon Sugar Pod. (I swapped some Indigo Beauty tomato seeds for them). That is one of the great things about community seed swaps; both the unusual and commonplace are often to be found side by side. The Golden Sweet is growing at about the same rate as the Oregon, but I understand it eventually reaches double the Oregon's height. One other noticeable feature of the Golden Sweet is the lovely purple-blue flowers. Easy to grow, tasty and pretty. Definitely worth a try. 

Friday, 3 June 2016

A very obvious Harlequin ladybird

This very obvious Harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis conspicua) has appeared on my cherry plum tree. I have previously spotted the larvae and other colour forms in the garden but this is the first time I have seen "conspicua".

 A friend told me I should squash it because as well as eating aphids and scale insects they also feed on butterfly and moth eggs and other ladybird species. I have left it alone. Last year I checked most of the ladybirds I found in our garden and the majority appeared to be Harlequins. If I go on a killing spree I am likely to have an aphid infestation and, to be honest, I don't believe eliminating them will make the slightest difference in the overall population. More will move in from neighbouring gardens to fill the gap in mine.

Many of the Harlequin colour forms look very similar to our own native species. Here are some identification guides that can help differentiate between them:

Harlequin Ladybird Survey - Recognition and Distinction  has a useful PDF identification guide at
Ladybird descriptions_Info pack_NEW_v.5.pdf 

The Ladybird Survey has an identification sheet showing the most common UK ladybird species and another for the larvae of UK ladybirds.  

Ladybird Spotter has an interactive key to help identify ladybirds

A second updated edition (2013) of the Ladybirds Handbook is available through the publishers Pelagic Publishing and other booksellers.

Mapping the Garden - Zone 1

I have been intending to map our garden permaculture zones for about two years but have only now just started on the project. The idea is that the map will serve as a reminder of what was and is already in place, what grows well and what doesn't, and will also help me adjust the plantings. Although this is starting out as an ordinary blog posting I will make these maps individual blog pages so that I can easily update them and add more photos.

Rather than tackle the whole garden at once I thought that if I mapped the different areas separately I would be more likely to finish the project. For the first map I choose the area between the end of the kitchen/bathroom extension and the ancient garden shed because it is one of the smaller patches in the garden. When I started to map it in detail, though, I realised that the area may be small but there is a lot going on here.

The boundaries are a six foot wooden fence to the left, a 4ft 2in high brick wall on the right, an old home made garden shed that was erected in the 1940s and the end of the bathroom extension.The wall is used by many of the local cats as a walkway and they then drop down in front of the shed or into the neighbour's garden to continue their daily prowls. So we have a small zone 5 incursion at that point.

There is an earth/gravel path between the north side of the shed and the wooden fence that leads into the main part of the garden (zones 2-4). There are two raised beds in front of the shed on either side of the shed door, and concrete paths along the end and to the side of the bathroom/kitchen extension. When we moved into the property there was a thin layer of concrete in the middle that was badly cracked and broken in places. We replaced it with gravel and stepping stones some of which were made from the concrete we pulled up.

We have two water butts fed by rainwater coming off the rooves on the back of the house and the extension. We should really install a third to make the most of the run-off (we do have the space). The roof of the garden shed slopes in the direction of the raised beds and, ever since the guttering came off, rainwater runs directly onto the raised beds.

The main productive area is the right hand raised bed in front of the shed. This is how it looked for many years during the summer.

21st August 2013 - rosemary bush still flourishing
The runner beans do well here but to pick the beans on the plants nearest the garden wall I have to step on the bed, which is usually a no-no because it compacts the soil. I realised even before I started harvesting, though, that there is a permanent, narrow track just in front of the beans. This is created by the cats using it as as short cut through the garden, so I decided I might as well walk on this part of the bed as well!

The rosemary bush in the middle flourished for many years and provided us with a regular supply of the herb until it died at the beginning of 2015. Luckily I had taken cuttings the previous year so we now have several new plants in pots.

The other herbs in the ground are ramsons, chives, lemon balm and oregano. These are supplemented by hairy bittercress and nettles. The herbs in the pots vary as I move them around from one spot to another to test out the best environment for them.

28th March 2015

This is the same area in March 2015. The rosemary bush has been replaced with a pear tree (Concorde), which I had bought in autumn 2014 and kept it in a container while I considered where its final location should be. The demise of the rosemary made the decision for me.

At this time of year the available herbs are chives, ramsons and lemon balm as well as some hairy bittercress.

Comfrey was added to the upper right hand corner in late 2014 and is now well established.

During May and June, the herbs and the comfrey begin to take over and are pruned back. None of it goes to waste. The herbs, including the nettles, are dried for cooking or teas and the comfrey leaves are used to make fertiliser (see Comfrey juice decanted). The ramsons have usually died back by now and set seed.

15th June 2015 - herbs and nettles taking over
In October the beans are still going strong as are the herbs and nettles.

10th October 2015
This is how the patch looked on 29th May 2016

29th May 2016
The beans are beginning to climb and the pear tree is now established. The herbs and comfrey have already been cut back once and the golden oregano needs thinning out. The pots on the right and left contain mint but most of the one on the right has been eaten by something I have yet to find and identify. It has started to recover and grow back. The pot in the middle contains lovage.

Tea Bag Index results

In 2015 we took part in UK Tea Bag Index experiment and one of the pair of tea bags was planted in the middle of the right hand bed. The Tea Bag Index decomposition rate was found to be group ii and the C:N ratio of the soil was also in group ii, both slap bang in the middle for garden soils.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

May harvests

The garden is starting to really take off. More of the overwintered onions have filled out and a few are starting to produce seed heads.

The peas and the mange tout are now producing pods. Most of the plants are at the back of the portable grow beds next to the kitchen and bathroom extension. Many of them started out earlier this year as providers of pea shoots on the kitchen window sill (see http://cavershamgarden.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/pea-shoots.html) but are now doing very well outside as normal pea plants.

The lettuces around the base of the fig tree are doing well but are perhaps a little too close together. I should thin them out a bit more.

And while we are on the subject of thinning out, I have pulled up some of the garlic that I have been growing from bulbils. I allowed a couple of my garlic plants to produce flowers and bulbils and planted them in pots to see if and how many would grow.

It seems that almost all of them have produced young garlic plants with the result that the pots are overcrowded. So I am pulling up a few and using both the small bulbs and the young leaves in cooking and salads. They are now in their second year.

The sprouting broccoli and kales are going to seed. I generally let them get on with it as the flowers encourage insects. They self sow around the garden so all I have to do is transplant or remove any surplus new plants. I usually put them in pots and eventually offer them as plant swaps.